Faith and Spirituality at Work—Moving From Tolerance To Respect

Faith and Spirituality at Work—Moving From Tolerance To Respect

by Felicity Menzies
We all subscribe to belief systems (which may involve agnostic beliefs)  that significantly shape our meaning system and influence our responses, relationships and day-to-day challenges and opportunities. Despite this, in secular Australia, religion is a workplace taboo.
Masking faith and spirituality at work is an example of covering—active strategies that employees take to hide or downplay aspects of their identity to avoid stereotyping,  bias, interpersonal conflict, discrimination or harassment. Covering has negative implications for employee engagement, well-being and commitment. Also, when employees do not bring their whole selves to work, organisations cannot benefit from that diversity.


When you interact with individuals from backgrounds different from your own, there will be times when your own values and beliefs  conflict with the cultural ideals of your counterpart. Inclusion does not require you to abandon your own cultural values or to support the practices or beliefs of other cultures. Rather, inclusion encourages a nonjudgmental respect for difference. This improves your interactions—when people feel respected, they are more likely to reciprocate the favourable sentiment with pro-social behavior and you are more likely to achieve your goals.
However, our cultural frameworks are intimately tied to our self-concept. Differences in values, beliefs, and behavioural norms can trigger emotional resistance or backlash. For example, asking two individuals on opposite sides of the abortion or same-sex marriage debate to embrace each other’s viewpoint is likely to be met with anger and frustration or provoke strong arguments against the opposing belief. Attempts at persuasion might even strengthen the intensity of each partner’s point of view. The notion of respect as acceptance, affirmation, or appreciation of different perspectives or ways of being may be too unrealistic.
But neither does respect have to involve reluctant tolerance. Tolerance is a negative term. It implies a gritting of one’s teeth: a quiet endurance of differences privately perceived to be deviant, immoral, or even abhorrent.


Luckily, there is a notion of respect that lies midway between complete acceptance and reluctant endurance. Respect as civility is about treating others with courtesy, politeness, and concern. Civility is respecting the humanity of diverse others. It does not involve endorsing their specific ideas or behaviour. Respect as civility means showing a positive regard for others as equals. It involves disagreeing without demonising, and hearing diverse opinions without attacking. Inclusion embodies this notion of respect as civility.


Organisations can take active steps towards creating environments where employees feel safe expressing their faith and spirituality. These include:
  1. normalising discussions about faith and spirituality in the workplace through town halls, panels, experts discussions and other forums.
  2. reviewing holiday and leave entitlements for inclusiveness
  3. acknowledging and celebrating dates of religious significance across different faiths
  4. establishing multifaith employee networks to encourage interfaith learning and dialogue
  5. investing in respect and civility training
  6. reviewing physical workspaces to ensure they accommodate for spiritual needs
  7. implementing all-roles flex and ensuring leaders are modeling and supporting its use
  8. implementing effective grievance procedures and adhering to a zero-tolerance policy for harassment
To learn more about NEEOPA’s faith and spirituality forum, download the forum wrap-up.

Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.